Örebro HK finally started to show the form that has alluded them all season and have won six matches in the month. Swede Marcus Weinstock, in his ninth season at the club, leads the month's points scoring ahead of five import players in their first season at the club. They lie only three points from season's goal - their first ever SHL playoff season after six year's of trying.
The Best of the Bunch
It has actually been the teams in ninth, twelfth and thirteenth who have provided the best form in February.
Rögle BK are cementing their first chance to be involved in the SHL postseason with four wins in February. 28 year old and Assistant Captain Ted Brithen, pictured, leads the point scoring over the whole season lying in seventh place in Total Points with 34 (11G+23A). That makes this his best points scoring season in the SHL and just two more points will give him the best season of his senior career which he started at Rögle, the same club as where he was a junior.
Only three points behind him on the season is Canadian, Kodie Curran. The former Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) forward, was the team's highest scorer in February with nine points (2G+7A). But the club's hot shot this month has been 22 year old Swede, Linus Sandin who has scored seven goals and one assist, more than one third of his points for the whole season.
The Playoff Fight: Sixth to Twelfth
Only 11 points separate the six teams in places six to twelve. That means the next five matches will be absolutely crucial in deciding who will have the "wildcard" positions of seven to ten inclusive and those who will be in 11th and 12th having qualified for the SHL next year without any post season action.
The majority of the teams in 6th to 11th have had a poor February winning only two or three matches. Nonetheless two 35 year olds with NHL experience, Linköping HC's Derek Roy (2G+3A) - above- and Skellefteå AIK's Joakim Lindström (3G+5A) continue to pick up points despite the team not winning games. That means they remain in second and third in Total Points respectively.
Fourth and Fifth
In fourth and fifth place Växjö Lakers and Djurgården IF are separated by only one point. Växjö may not be the convincing team they were last year, but a successful month has seen them win six out eight matches. They can thank two Canadians for this, first, last year's top signing, toughman, Brendan Shinnimin who gained 8 points (4G+4A) and then new signing, Kris Versteeg. The 32 year old has only played for the current champions for eight games, but was their top scorer in February with nine points (3G+6A). With two Stanley Cups with Chicago Redhawks and 653 NHL games under his belt, Växjö has signed one of the most talented and experienced players currently playing in the SHL in the run up to the Playoffs and are hoping he can help the team to a back to back Le Mat Trophy victory.
Djurgården IF has had a difficult month with only three victories out of eight will need to find that "little extra" in the postseason if they are going to get to the semifinals as they did last year.
Champions Hockey League winners, Frölunda Indians have seen an amazing month for top scorer Ryan Lasch. A return to form sees the American score 15 points (3G+12G) in just eight matches, making him the month's top scorer and taking him back up to first in Total Points. Swedish top draft prospect Samuel Fagemo also scored a Point Per Game, including 4 goals. And winning six matches out of eight meetings puts them in a great position to repeat the CHL/ SHL double they managed in 2015/6, the year that Lasch last won Total Points.
Färjestad BK are also a club find themselves at the top of the league because of a fantastic team effort, this time in front of goal. Top scoring defenseman in the league is their Finnish back, Jesse Virtanen who lies in an impressive sixth place overall. Amazingly, even those he has 30 assists on the season he does not top the league in that category. He lies in third in the SHL on assists behind the league's top two scorers, Frölunda's Ryan Lasch and Linköping's Derek Roy. Virtanen's teammates, 20 year old Boston Bruins drafted Oskar Steen and 26 year Joakim Nygård are also well placed on Total Points with the three of them separated by just three points. Meanwhile Nygård is league's top goal scorer with 20 on the season, alongwith Djurgården's Emil Bemström who was drafted in 2017 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first weekend in March has come and gone leaving just five matches left in the regular season for men's hockey here in Sweden.
For the first time since December there is daylight between the top ten teams as the battle for playoff places hots up and there is now 28 points between first and twelfth.
The Top Three
Three teams are at the top with only six points between them - Luleå HF, Färjestad BK and Frölunda Indians.
Luleå HF have won nine matches in a row and rarely allow more than one goal against them allowing keeper, Joel Lassinantti (above) rise to the top of the netminder's competition with 93.15 SVS%. Their top scorer, Assistant Captain, Niklas Olausson may is only 18th on Total Points so if they can remain at the top this will count as be the ultimate team victory. If they hold on they will be the first team in the Swedish hockey history to win the women's and men's league in the same season.
MODO Hockey - Linköping HC
These two teams met in the semifinal last year when Linköping came out victorious 2-1 in matches. But when the two team's met in Örnsköldsvik last Tuesday it was the home team that were favourites to win in front of the 800 fans who came to see the game.
But it was Linköping who scored first, putting the pressure on the home team with two quick goals at the start of the second period. Former MODO player and American Olympic Gold medalist, Sidney Morin scored an assist on the 0-2 goal which was netted by Sweden's own Olympic bronze medalist, Pernilla Winberg. The home team never found their way into the game, so that when their top scorer and former Toronto Furies' forward, Michela Cava got her name on the scoresheet it was too little too late. Linköping took the game 1-3.
In Match 2 MODO scored first and it was Cava who got the assist on 6.2 ft (190 cm) French forward, Lore Baudrit's goal after just 3:15. But Linköping did not let go and the game was level at 2-2 with just under half the match remaining. When Morin scored her third assist of the match on another Winberg goal, the home team had shifted the momentum of the game to their advantage with 4-2. The visitors chased and it was no other than Cava who scored with just 1:30 minutes left in the game to bring it to 4-3. But there would not be anymore goals and the guests went down in the series 2-0.
For the second year in a row MODO found themselves in a must win third match of the series playing away in Linköping's Stångebrohallen. It was a tense and high quality game marked by excellent defense and goalkeeping at both ends. And even with Linköping taking a 1-0 lead through Buffalo Beauts' drafted Kennedy Marchment in the first period it did not change the atmosphere. The opening two periods were marked by nine penalties including three Illegal Hits. But that did not include when Linköping defender, Emilia Ramboldt and MODO captain, Olivia Carlsson exchanged blows in front for the Linköping bench. It was only when Linköping scored their second at 6:49 in the final period that the tension eased and the home team's final place seemed secured. The top scorer in the league's 11 year history, Denise Altmann was the one who found the net on a breakaway. But MODO's young Czech goalkeeper, Klara Peslarova was livid and confronted the referees believing she had been interfered with on the play. But the goal stood and as time ticked away it was Linköping who cemented the victory with two more goals.
The score of 4-0 does not really do justice to MODO's fighting spirit, which exploded with five minutes to go when 90% of the players of the ice were involved in a brawl in front of Linköping netminder, Eveliina Sounpää. Both Linköping's Stacey Brooke and MODO's Paula Bergström picked up a 2 PIM for Fighting and 20 PIM for Game Misconduct. When the siren went the loss was too much for Peslarova who broke down in tears at the bench and then attempted to smash her stick to pieces in rage. At the other end of the ice Linköping took a desevered 3 - 0 match victory and will face Luleå again in the championship decider series.
Luleå HF v HV71
HV71 were the only team in the top five of the SDHL who did not manage to beat Luleå in the regular season. But they showed no fear for the current champions and refused to lie down in any of the three games.
In the first match in Luleå the home team went ahead 3-0 in the first 16 minutes but the visitors refused to capitulate. Scoring a goal in each period they levelled with Luleå with 4:12 left on the clock. An upset seemed possible as the game went into overtime, but with the home team on the Power Play, Finnish Olympian, Noora Tulus scored the game winner goal. With her assist on Tulus' goal, fellow Finnish bronze medalist, Ronja Savolainen became the third Luleå player to score a Gordie Howe hattrick this year.
In the second game in Jönköping, HV took their confidence from that game with them and for first time in the series lead the champions 2-1 at the beginning of the third period. The final 20 minutes of the game produced four goals. First, Luleå HF served up a double punch l as they netted twice in 47 seconds to take the lead, 2-3.
With just under 10 minutes to go, last year's top forward, Finn, Michelle Karvinen found the net to take the champions, 2-4 ahead. But three minutes later she would be sent to the penalty box for Roughing and Lina Ljungbolm, the 17 year old taken in by HV71 just for the playoffs scored her second goal of the game and third of the series with under five minutes to go. But it would not be a hometown victory and Luleå again won a close fought game, 3-4.
The third game started like the first with Luleå HF putting in four goals past the home team in just over 16 minutes of play, two of which were scored the power play. But HV never lost sight of their goal and produced a disciplined second period, giving away only one penalty and scoring two goals to go into the third period only 2-4 down.
But discipline would again be HV71's undoing as Noora Tulus netted her second power play goal of the match after only 1:33 of the final period played. Luleå would later finish off the game with an empty net goal to take the match 2-6 and the series 3-0.
Luleå's forwards, Emma Nordin and Michelle Karvinen now lead the postseason scoring with 13 points each.
Last weekend saw the deciding matches in the semifinals of this year's SDHL played out in Jönköping and Linköping. Despite being a best of five series, both were completed in "straight sets" with 3-0 victories to last year's finalists Luleå/ MSSK and Linköping HC over HV71 and MODO Hockey respectively. These two will meet again when the series starts on 16 March to decide who will be crowned SDHL champions 2018/9.
See my next articles coming up soon for a match by match review of the semis.